Tyrone Spong has a target on his back and he's loving every minute of it.
"The King of the Ring" is coming off one of the most impressive victories of his nearly 80-fight professional kickboxing career, knocking out legendary three-time K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Remy Bonjasky this past March at the Glory 5 event in London.
Spong was expected to have his second mixed martial arts (MMA) fight last week at World Series of Fighting 3, but instead, he'll be competing in a single night eight man light heavyweight tournament this weekend (June 22, 2013) at Glory 9 in New York.
The Blackzilian is the most prominent name in the tournament field by a landslide, so he fully expects to receive everyone's best shot, and that starts with talented 22-year old Michael Duut (37-3 17 KOs) in the quarterfinal round.
Spong spoke with MMAmania.com about his recent victory over Bonjasky, broadening his combat sport horizons and how he prepares for a single-night tournament in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were in Holland for an extended period of this training camp. How excited were your pitbulls when you finally got back to America?
Tyrone Spong: Oh really excited. They're always happy to see me. There's always something going on with them when I leave. The guy I have taking care of them, they don't listen to nobody. It's like they're being Rambos when I'm gone and I can't imagine it because whenever I come back, I'm like, "There's nothing wrong with them," but sometimes they be giving their dogsitter Marcello a hard time. They're great though, they're very happy to see me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's start with your most recent performance, you had an amazing knockout of legendary heavyweight Remy Bonjasky in London. What were your thoughts on that fight in general and what that victory did for you?
Tyrone Spong: I don't necessarily see it as my best performance in my fight career but I do see it as a real impressive way to win over a champion like Remy because he's never been knocked out like that before. I think everyone in the fight world were just shocked and that's something you want to do as an athlete, as a fighter. You want to shock people. You want to impress them with victories like that and that's exactly what I did so I'm happy with it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So after beating one of the best heavyweights of all time, why drop back down to light heavyweight for this upcoming tournament?
Tyrone Spong: That was because of the situation I was in. I was in Amsterdam and I was supposed to be in World Series of Fighting so I was starting to cut weight to 205 and I didn't have my training partners there, my teammates, so when I came back here, the best thing for me to do was to pull out of the MMA fight because I didn't have enough time to properly prepare due to having no MMA training in Amsterdam.
Kickboxing is my second nature. It's something I've been doing forever now. My management and the promotion, we decided to let that fight go for now and take the kickboxing fight instead. Since I was already cutting weight, that was the best thing for us to do and also for the promotion, for me to be able to fight on that card and it's not quite as bad of a cut since the kickboxing light heavyweight is 209 pounds.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Are you surprised that you're facing Michael Duut first, who's probably one of the top-seeded fighters in the tournament field, that the promotion is pitting you two against each other in the quarterfinals?
Tyrone Spong: No, I'm not really surprised by it. It's okay. I'm okay with it. He's a good guy and it'll be a great fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What are your thoughts on doing a tournament like this? I cant' remember you competing in a one-night tournament since the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix.
Tyrone Spong: I did a few tournaments and I've won most of them. For me, it's just a new challenge. I'm happy with it and I'm at a stage in my career that I just need something to motivate me to challenge me and this was the best thing for me to do.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now do you have to do anything special in preparation knowing you could be fighting three times in one night, or do you put all your focus on winning that first fight in the quarterfinals?
Tyrone Spong: I always focus on my first fight. That's the most important because if you don't win that one, there will be no next fight.
Tyrone Spong: That was a real entertaining fight. I was just constantly on the edge of my seat. It was something else. I liked that fight a lot. But you know, Mark Hunt, that's not the Mark Hunt from K-1 anymore. It's a different Mark Hunt. I don't compare him to a K-1 level striker anymore. He's just a dangerous guy and I still like him very much. He's got great hands, a lot of power and he's still a beast.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This upcoming tournament has a former UFC fighter Dustin Jacoby in the quarterfinals as well as former UFC bantamweight Nick Pace on the preliminary portion. We always hear about kickboxers making the transition to MMA, but what do you think about MMA fighters transitioning to kickboxing? Are there any that you think could pull off the transition well?
Tyrone Spong: Well I don't pay enough attention to the regular scene to break down who would work best from MMA in kickboxing, but I know guys at my gym like Eddie Alvarez would have success. Anthony Johnson, Rashad's stand-up is improving so much. Even guys like Danillo Villefort or Gesias Cavalcante, JZ has already fought one of the best kickboxers when he took Masato to a decision in 2007 so I know he could pull it off. Having my kickboxing coach Henry Joost here is a big help.
Tyrone Spong: It's something else.Pedro is just on another level. He works with Olympic champions and he made so many Olympic medal winners, he's just something else. For me, as a striker, to work with him, I only benefit from it even more because I'm picking up new techniques. I'm blessed with the talent to adjust and I pick it up real fast working with him and I enjoy it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Has your recent work with Diaz been one of the leading factors behind your decision to try and get a boxing fight by the end of the year?
Tyrone Spong: No, that's not specifically the reason. I know for a long time. I've trained with a lot of big name boxers and also Floyd Mayweather Sr. in the past and I know I can box for a long time already. Now, like I said before, I'm at a stage in my career that I'm just searching for challenges. I know I can do it. I'm working with Pedro Diaz every day and I feel like I need to do it and I want to do it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of challenges, while this upcoming tournament is at light heavyweight, do you plan to go back up in weight to compete against the best heavyweights again as well?
Tyrone Spong: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How do you see your upcoming quarterfinal fight against Michael Duut playing out in your mind, especially considering you've been preparing specifically for him for a while now?
Tyrone Spong: I don't predict, I don't have a glass ball to predict the future, but if anyone knows me, they know I always go out there to win and I always love to win by knockout so that's exactly what I'll try to do. I expect him to come out and try to shock the world too because I have a big name and for him it would be a big win, but I'm not gonna let him have it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you expect to have a big target on your back in this tournament due to your notoriety in the kickboxing world?
Tyrone Spong: Yeah, of course. Everyone wants to beat me, to try to beat me, but I like it at this point. I'm aware of what I'm capable of and I believe in myself strongly and I work my ass off. A lot of guys are real talented but they don't work that hard but that's not me. I'm ready, just ready.
Tyrone would like to thank Monster Energy Drink, his manager Glenn Robinson, all the guys at the Blackzilians, his coaches Henry Joost, Pedro Diaz, Kenny Monday, Rashad Evans and all the guys at the gym. You can follow him on Twitter @Tyrone_Spong.